previous sub-section
Israel's Urban Environment, 1948–1988
next sub-section


Despite her self-deprecating descriptions, Prime Minister Golda Meir was much more than just another chain-smoking grandmother. Her wide range of interests, however, did not include the natural world and ecology. (The only real reference her autobiography makes to the natural world in-volves childhood fears that associated the wetlands around her home in Pinsk with the coming of Cossacks.[73]) When Josef Tamir came to speak with her about pollution and the importance of establishing a government ministry to address it, she listened politely. Then she dismissively directed him to speak with the Director General of her office.

In March 1973, Meir flew off to America to meet with President Nixon. It provided a rare window of environmental opportunity. During the Prime Minister's stay in Washington, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Yigael Alon chaired cabinet meetings. This was dur-ing a time of rising global environmental consciousness. A year earlier, Israel had sent a high-level, twelve-person delegation to Stockholm for the

United Nations' historic Conference on the Human Environment.[74] The June 1972 meeting of 113 nations served as a turning point for interna-tional environmental cooperation and led to the founding of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Although Foreign Minister Abba Eban received the headlines in the Israeli press, some of the partici-pants mostly remember him popping into plenary sessions to hear a few minutes of discussion before running back to his hotel to continue dictat-ing a book to his secretary. But when he made his presentation, Israel's most facile English orator did not disappoint.[75] In his speech to the dele-gates Eban eloquently voiced Israel's concern that humanity now existed “on water and soil polluted by poisons.” Even though the Conference pre-ceded the Arab oil boycott by sixteen months, he presciently emphasized dwindling petroleum resources.[76] Stockholm also served as an interna-tional ecological debut for Uri Marinov, a young environmentalist. The delegation relied on him to represent Israel in the conference's smaller, more technical discussions.

Marinov was by then a rising star who had hitched his professional fate to environmentalism. Like many idealistic young Israelis, for his military service he joined the Nahal—the Pioneer Fighting Youth Corps, which mixed military service with the establishment of kibbutzim in sensitive border regions. After high school, Marinov and his friends founded Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza Strip, where he remained as a member for six years.[77]

In 1956 a U.S. news crew from CBS television came to Israel. Reporter Edward R. Murrow was doing a portrait of Israel, while his colleague Howard K. Smith was profiling Egypt. Morrow was captivated by his young host and ultimately joined him at the top of the kibbutz watchtower for a prolonged interview. A national American television audience watched the apparently guileless Marinov steal the show, talking about his dreams of living in peace with his neighbors. It looked very good alongside young Egyptians who called for “throwing Israel into the sea.” A star was born. The United Jewish Appeal drafted Marinov for a U.S. speaking tour, and he appeared in follow-up television interviews after the Sinai Campaign. Later he would spend several years in the States and complete a degree in veterinary medicine and master's training at Iowa State University, with the idea of returning to the kibbutz.[78]

But it was hard to keep the ambitious Marinov down on the farm. Upon returning from his studies he took a position as a physiology researcher at the Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. It did not take him long to realize that he might never amount to much as a scientist.

Marinov began to look elsewhere, taking a job as head of the life sciences branch of the government's National Council for Research and Development, which preceded the Ministry of Science. The environment was still not on his agenda.

When Hillel Shuval (by then a Hebrew University environmental sci-ence professor) headed a water research committee for the council, Marinov began to sense an opportunity. Marinov expanded the branch's environmental research agenda and started an air quality committee.[79] In 1970 he began circulating a newsletter, The Biosphera. For twenty-seven years it would be Israel's only continuous publication about environmen-tal affairs.

In 1971 Yigael Alon began to explore a government response to Israel's pollution problem. Marinov had a head start on the issue. So Alon brought Marinov's operation together with representatives of the government, the JNF, the NRA, and the SPNI to create a National Biospheric and Environmental Quality Committee (called by its Hebrew acronym VIBAS).[80] Marinov was to coordinate ten subcommittees and their inter-national representation.[81] Marinov had his ticket to Stockholm.

The thirty-member committee was a valuable academic forum, and VIBAS published some of the most trenchant, media-specific environ-mental reports ever issued in Israel. The trouble was the absence of oper-ational focus or function.[82] After receiving a report about the severity of the pollution in Lake Kinneret, Alon created an additional forum com-posed of Directors General from government ministries.[83] The forum was to meet regularly and coordinate environmental policy. It was headed by Tsvi Turlow, the brilliant but impulsive Director General of the Ministry of Justice. Its members were very busy people whose primary loyalties lay with their respective ministries' other priorities; it was not an effective framework for implementing environmental policy.

Inspired by the spirit of the historic 1972 UN environmental confer-ence, from which he had recently returned, Marinov lobbied to promote an ambitious regulatory vision. But he found considerable resistance to a full-blown environmental ministry. Ministries with vested interests in related areas, such as the Ministry of the Interior, openly expressed territorial anxiety.[84] Surprisingly, SPNI General Secretary Azariah Alon also op-posed full ministerial status. He feared that a Ministry of the Environment would quickly become marginalized. Instead, he proposed an Environmental Commission.[85] Not discouraged, Marinov drafted and cir-culated a proposal for an Environmental Protection Authority that would primarily serve in an advisory capacity.[86]


Yigael Alon was supportive. When Maurice Strong, the Director of the newly formed United Nations Environment Programme, visited Israel, Alon met with him and assured him that Israel was going to take the en-vironment seriously; he lobbied Strong to make contamination of the Mediterranean an international priority.[87] Soon thereafter, Alon asked Josef Tamir what he thought of the Environmental Protection Authority idea and who he thought should head it. Alon had narrowed his list of can-didates down to two: Avraham Yoffe and Uri Marinov. Tamir felt that General Yoffe was not cut out for the kind of bureaucratic minutiae asso-ciated with modern environmental regulation and supported the young veterinarian.[88]

And so it came to be that on March 20, 1973, while Golda Meir was away charming her American hosts, Yigael Alon snuck Marinov's proposal past her and got Cabinet approval for an Environmental Protection Service.[89] Despite a few snickers from peers at his enthusiasm, Tamir had little problem in galvanizing support for the Service in the Knesset even before Meir returned from the United States.[90]

Alon called Marinov into his office to inform him of his future. Marinov knew that the SPNI had made inquiries about the new bureau-cracy with the idea of sending one of its cronies to run it. Typically blunt, Alon told him that he had looked all over for a better candidate but could not find anyone appropriate.[91] With three years of experience, Marinov may well have been the most qualified person in the country for the job. He was certainly the most energetic. It would take all of Marinov's con-siderable stamina, cunning, and obstinacy to complete the tedious, two-decade-long process of building an environmental bureaucracy.

previous sub-section
Israel's Urban Environment, 1948–1988
next sub-section